Up until the mid-80s, little was known about eating disorders, and the public appeared to be completely unaware of the growing epidemic of young women starving themselves or binging and purging. Whether it’s due to the media’s obsession with painting an unrealistic image of beauty, or just societal pressure to be perfect, young women have continued to jeopardize their health and go hungry in an attempt to be the “perfect size” — according to what someone else has told them that is.
Thanks to the awareness push of the past several decades and public health campaigns to produce more realistic body image ideation and self-confidence, the incidence of anorexia and bulimia seemed to be on the decline. But new statistics are showing that there is a growing generation of teens who are once again engaging in unhealthy eating habits to achieve the “ideal body,” which is not ideal for their overall health.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, currently 2.7% of all teenagers are diagnosed with a type of unhealthy eating disorder. That is just those who admit to their unhealthy ways or who are diagnosed due to health concerns. The reality is that the number is probably much higher, with many flying under the radar and living in silence.
In most instances, the only time that an eating disorder is diagnosed is if the teenager needs to seek medical treatment or enter eating disorder treatment centers Canada. Many who become overly obsessed with their appearance usually go unspotted. They count each calorie that touches their lips and they work tirelessly to burn off those calories when they do give in and succumb to food. The problem is that no matter how thin they become, deprive themselves or control their eating, it isn’t enough. They can’t ever seem to achieve a positive self-image of what and who they are, regardless of their clothes size or what the scale tells them.
The reason that eating disorders are so prevalent and show up so frequently during the teen years is because this is a time when peer pressure and the need to fit in is at its highest. Entering into puberty, young girls (primarily, although boys can also be affected) begin to have a greater awareness of their body image and what is and is not “acceptable.” It is also a time when children become more closed off from their parents and tend to hide their behaviors, which makes eating disorders a recipe for disaster. It isn’t just girls who are suffering from eating disorders, either — estimates show that as many as one in three boys have some form of an eating disorder as well.
There are two different types of eating disorders that are most common in the teen years: bulimia and anorexia. They are both illnesses where individuals limit their intake of calories to the degree that they end up with health conditions. Anorexia is when they devastate their bodies by not taking in enough calories to sustain what their body needs and jeopardizing their health. Bulimia is a condition where the individual “binge eats,” feels shame and a loss of control, and then vomits what they eat to “purge” the calories.
Your background does affect the type of disorder that you are more likely to develop. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, African-American teenagers are 50% more likely to engage in bulimic behaviors than their Caucasian counterparts. The reason is unknown, but there is a clear disparity in the types of eating disorder behaviors.
Although there seemed to be a slight shift in attitudes about what is considered “beautiful” in the media, there is still a residual ideation about what a woman “should” look like, that drives young teens who already feel awkward and out of place to strive to be accepted and beautiful. The problem with eating disorders is that they are complex and hard to treat.
One of the biggest hurdles to treatment is even identifying who has an eating disorder, because it often goes unnoticed and leaves teens suffering in silence. The rise in eating disorders over the past several years may be driven by the obsession with the internet, “selfies” and the “me” generation. Or it might just be that the old ways never really were extinguished, as previous generations had hoped. What is for sure is that more targeted campaigns need to be instilled to help young girls and boys to realize that beauty comes in all different shapes and sizes.